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Professional

Moving slugger to leadoff position gets offense going, but bullpen blows it again in Philly

Cubs needed a spark. Rizzo to the rescue?

After struggling again on the road, the Cubs moved slugger Anthony Rizzo into the leadoff spot for the series finale in Philadelphia on Thursday.
After struggling again on the road, the Cubs moved slugger Anthony Rizzo into the leadoff spot for the series finale in Philadelphia on Thursday.

After the Cubs suffered one of their most humbling losses Wednesday night, manager Joe Maddon remained calm.

“There’s no readjustment to the lineup,” Maddon said after an 11-1 loss to the Phillies that knocked them out of first place in the National League Central by a percentage point and marked their 15th loss in their last 22 road games.

“There’s no extra batting practice to take. That’s not the answer. I believe in my guys.”

But there is a way to spark a lineup that has scored only three runs in two games – and Maddon shuffled things to do just that Thursday night.

He moved Anthony Rizzo to the leadoff spot. Rizzo hadn’t hit a home run since July 27 at Milwaukee, and he has only one extra base hit this month. But he responded to his new role with a home run Thursday.

Rizzo is batting .286 with five walks in August despite his power drought, so the Cubs aren’t giving up at-bats by putting him at the top of the lineup at least until Jason Heyward, sidelined with a sore left knee, returns.

Rizzo went 1-for-2 with two walks and a stolen base in his only other start at the leadoff spot this season, but he’s hitting .320 with a .416 on-base percentage in 46 starts at the top of the order.

The Cubs are 41-19 at Wrigley Field, but 23-38 on the road. The pitching staff has a 3.35 home ERA, but a 4.90 mark on the road.

Rizzo said last Thursday that he’d accept winning the division by one game even if the woes away from Wrigley continued.

“The team that provides hope is the ’73 Mets,” Maddon said. “Look up their record. So I’m a one-day-at-a-time guy.”

The Mets won the six-team NL East with an 82-79 record, despite the fact that they were 61-71 and in last place after the first 132 games.

For the Cubs to exceed the Mets’ 39-41 road mark in 1973, they would have to post a 16-5 record in their final 21 road games.

Bad, but not the worst: The Cubs are having a horrible season on the road. After being swept in a three-game series in Philadelphia, the Cubs have a 23-38 road record – 18½ games behind their 41-19 home mark.

But that’s not even close to the widest home/road difference in franchise history.

According to team historian Ed Hartig, the 18½-game split is the Cubs largest home/road deficit since Sept. 26, 1956, when the “road Cubs” trailed the “home Cubs” by 19 games.

Cubs’ home record: 39-36. Cubs’ road record: 21-56 (19 games worse than the home record).

The last time there was a 20-game difference was in 1953. But that pales in comparison to the largest gap in franchise history, which occurred on Sept. 14, 1933, according to Hartig.

Cubs’ home record: 52-16. Cubs’ road record: 28-45 (26½ games worse than the home record).

At the time, the Cubs were in second place, trailing the New York Giants by 5½ games. Had the Cubs played .500 ball on the road, they would have had at least a three-game lead in the National League.

Phillies 7, Cubs 5: Bryce Harper knows everyone in the dugout and ballpark expects him to get clutch hits in moments just like this.

Boy, he crushed it.

Harper blasted a grand slam with one out in the ninth inning, capping a six-run rally that sent Philadelphia past Chicago on Thursday night for a three-game sweep.

Harper delivered his biggest hit yet in his first season after signing a $330 million, 13-year contract with the Phillies, celebrating while running around the bases and then getting mobbed by teammates at the plate.

"Before I went to the plate, I touched my heart and I was thinking to myself: Why am I not jittery? Why am I not excited? But that's just how I am," Harper said. "I go up there and each at-bat is the same. I don't think about bases loaded. I try to get a pitch I can drive and hopefully good things happen. I love those moments. I love those opportunities. I think it helped me a lot from a young age going through those emotions and having those opportunities at 8, 9, 10 years old in big-time games going to different states and cities playing for a lot of teams," he said.

"I just love it. It's a lot of fun. These fans do expect that, and I expect to do that for them on a nightly basis, and if I don't, they'll let me know and I like that, too," he said.

Cubs starter Yu Darvish struck out 10, silencing Philadelphia's bats for seven innings a night after the Phillies scored 11 runs in former manager Charlie Manuel's debut as hitting coach.

But the Phillies rallied against Chicago's bullpen and moved within one game of the Cubs for the second wild-card spot in the NL.

Pinch-hitter Brad Miller chased Rowan Wick with an RBI single in the ninth that cut it to 5-2, and Roman Quinn greeted Pedro Strop with an RBI single to make it a two-run game. Strop (2-5) hit Rhys Hoskins to load the bases with one out.

Derek Holland entered to face Harper and got ahead 0-2 in the count. Harper fouled off a 2-2 pitch before launching his 25th homer way out to right.

"I think everyone who watches baseball expects him to do that every time he's up," Phillies starter Drew Smyly said. "He's fun to watch."

Harper has seven homers and 15 RBIs in the last 12 games.

Ranger Suarez (4-1) tossed two scoreless innings to earn the win.

Anthony Rizzo, batting leadoff after the original lineup had him in his usual cleanup spot, gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the third when he hit his 22nd homer.

Ian Happ led off the fourth with a triple and scored on David Bote's double. Albert Almora Jr. hit an RBI single with two outs, went to second on the throw home, and advanced to third on shortstop Jean Segura's fielding error. Rizzo's single made it 4-0.

Kyle Schwarber slammed his 100th career homer and team-high 28th this season into the bushes in center field to put the Cubs ahead 5-0 in the fifth.

Corey Dickerson hit an RBI single with two outs in the eighth off Wick, but right fielder Nicholas Castellanos threw out Hoskins trying to score from second on the play to end the inning.

"Darvish was outstanding, but he was done," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of lifting his starter.

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